5 things you don't know about K-12 virtual learning

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This post was originally posted on eSchool News.

Online learning has come a long way since its early champions saw it as a supplement to classroom learning. Skeptics initially questioned the viability of the new model, wondering if it would provide the right levels of support, curriculum, and engagement needed to ensure student success. And while online learning has more than proven itself to be both an alternative to and complementary offering for traditional classroom instruction, some misconceptions still persist.

For example, because virtual instructors aren’t physically present in a classroom, their qualifications and expertise can come into question. The subject matter itself—often thought of as “boring” or “unengaging”—is another area where myths persist. And finally, online skeptics are still talking about issues like lack of teacher support and low student success rates.

Dispelling the myths about virtual learning

To help dispel these myths and provide some insider knowledge on how online education really works, here’s a five-point list of things that you may not have known about virtual learning.

1. It hasn’t reached its peak yet.

Students of all ages are learning online—from the third-grader who wants to get a jump on her foreign-language skills to the college student who takes half of his credits online to the supply chain executive who wants to learn about the latest tech trends in her industry.

Related: An insider’s advice on creating an effective virtual learning program

According to Stratistics MRC, the global e-learning market accounted for $165.21 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $275.10 billion by 2022, growing at a 7.4 percent compound annual growth rate during that time. Key drivers behind this growth include flexibility in learning, low cost, ease of accessibility, and increased effectiveness through animated learning.

2. Online teachers know their stuff.

Anyone who is teaching online coursework in public schools must have a teacher’s license. Online educators must meet the same education standards as their non-virtual counterparts, which means earning a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in teaching (depending on what grades he or she is going to teach).

The problem is that online courses offered by for-profit providers often have high student-to-teacher ratios, limiting the time teachers can spend one-on-one with students. This leads to issues ranging from boredom to an inability to understand material to students feeling like they’ve been left out in the cold and unsupported.

3. In the virtual world, it’s all about dynamic, engaging, and interesting experiences.

When virtual learning was still in its infancy, most courses were static. Course content was text-heavy and the interactive content that did exist was limited. Fast-forward to 2018 and the best online courses are dynamic and jam-packed with elements that keep students of all ages engaged and on task. Videos, quizzes, discussion boards, and other interactive elements not only accommodate diverse learning styles, but also inspire students to learn about the subject matter while fostering independent learning skills they can use to prepare them for college, careers, and life.

4. Personalized support rules online.

Early on, skeptics assumed that virtual classrooms would be filled to the brim, with little opportunity for teachers to interact with their students. This assumption is flawed; Virtual High School (VHS), for instance, has an average student-to-teacher ratio of 21:1 (the national average for physical classrooms), which allows for personal attention and quality feedback.

Online teachers are trained to be responsive and timely, and to facilitate thoughtful discussions in their online classrooms. Every student has a private, personal discussion thread to ask questions of their teacher 24/7, and their teacher responds within 24 hours Monday through Friday. Those relationships sometimes deepen into true friendships, as was the case with English teacher Mrs. Osierre who recently attended Boston Adventist D.R.E.A.M Academy’s graduation ceremony. “Our kids invited her,” says the school’s co-founder. “It was phenomenal for them to see the teacher who they had never met in person before, at their graduation.”

5. Students have a say in their own learning.

Whether they pick an asynchronous course or a self-paced option, e-learning options give students learning choices they might not have otherwise. But there also rules in place to keep youngsters on task. For example, even though a student can access his or her class anytime, VHS provides due dates and scheduled deadlines for assignments and activities. This helps give students the structure they need with the flexibility they desire. For students who need to complete credit-recovery courses at their own pace, many virtual programs offer self-paced flex courses.

Related: 3 ways new-to-online students can thrive with virtual learning

The good news is that the positives for many online learning programs far outweigh the negatives. Not all programs are created equally, so it is important to do your homework and be sure the program you choose provides the support and services you need to help your students succeed. As online learning continues to mature and as more K-12 schools use online courses as part of their curriculum, online learning myths will fade further into the background and e-learning will be seen as a valued option for all learners.

About the Author

Carol Ribeiro is the president & CEO of The Virtual High School, a global non-profit organization with the industry’s most extensive catalog of online learning options. With over 20 years of experience in online education management and systems development, Ribeiro has been with the organization since its inception in 1996.